Today, April 7th, marks World Health Day, a day organized by the World Health Organization to focus in on issues that affect people across the globe. This year’s focus is Depression, a debilitating condition that affects many people. The World Health Organization is beginning a year long campaign against depression, their website stating “The goal of the campaign is that more people with depression, everywhere in the world, both seek and get help.” The page continues, “Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. More than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.” These are significant numbers and if depression doesn’t affect you directly, you undoubtedly have a friend or family member who has been affected. (World Health Organization)
In some cases, depression is caused by a phenomenon known in Psychology as “Cognitive Distortions.” According to Psych Central, “Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.” There are a wide variety of Cognitive Distortions, meaning there are countless ways our brain reinforces negative beliefs we hold about ourselves. Here are a few cognitive distortions to identify in your daily life.
Self Blame: Individuals who gravitate towards “Self-Blame” generally see themselves as the total cause of misfortune in their own lives or their friends’ lives, when generally it wasn’t really their fault and they are largely inflating the issue in their head.
Catastrophizing: Catastrophizing refers to thinking that whenever something bad happens it is absolutely the worst thing that could ever occur. This is like thinking, “Because I didn’t get a good grade on this test, I’m not going to go to college.” It’s just untrue, but if someone is prone to Catastrophizing, the sentiment will be fully believed.
Discounting and Filtering: Discounting and Filtering is paying attention to negative events while neglecting or rejecting positive experiences by saying they don’t matter or they are much fewer in amount than the negative experiences. An example of this, to relate back to school once more, might be choosing to focus on a low grade on an assignment when your sports team won a game.
Mind-Reading: Mind-Reading is a cognitive distortion where someone wholeheartedly believes they know what someone else is thinking or doing, without asking or legitimately knowing. This can lead someone to feeling dejected, confused, and alone when they genuinely are not.
All or Nothing Thinking: All or nothing thinking, or Black and White thinking, uses extreme language such as “this always happens” or “this never happens” and is one of the most damaging cognitive distortions, removing any sort of middle-ground or gray area. By thinking in absolutes, such as always or never, a person can rules out the positive possibilities inherent in every situation.
These may seem like small little details, but the cumulative effect of Cognitive Distortions can take a severe toll on one’s mental health. To counteract this, it is important to develop of “Positive Coping Mechanisms” which are the activities to pursue when negative events happen, or someone looking to improve the state of their mental health. Coping strategies can be anything from engaging in athletic activity, like dancing, or lifting weights, or pursuing artistic interests, like painting or acting, but it’s different for everyone and it’s important to start building these positive habits to keep ourselves mentally healthy as we progress onwards to adulthood. Forming these positive habits can help keep the brain strong and veer away from negative tendencies.
Of course, using positive coping mechanisms and combating cognitive distortions will not end mental illness, but recognizing these traits are the first steps towards mental self-improvement. Negative feelings and emotions affect everyone and it is important to stay knowledgeable on how to fight back against stress, anxiety and depression.